Judging the Royals

Miguel Cabrera at-bat illustrates why reports on framing pitches are overrated

Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera hit an RBI single against the Kansas City Royals in the sixth inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Monday, July 24, 2017.
Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera hit an RBI single against the Kansas City Royals in the sixth inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Monday, July 24, 2017. AP

Now that technology allows us to see which pitches are actually strikes and which pitches are actually balls, it would seem we can go a step further and figure out which catchers are good at framing pitches.

Framing is the ability to make a borderline ball look like a borderline strike; so all we have to do is look at those strike zone grids to know which catchers have that skill…right?

Not so fast.

First of all, nobody in baseball believes the strike zones shown on TV or websites are completely accurate; one website might show a pitch as a borderline strike, another website might show the same pitch as a borderline ball.

And then there’s the human element.

The first time I wrote about framing reports I talked with a former big league catcher (not Jason Kendall, just in case you were wondering) and that catcher asked a very good question:

If the game were played in Detroit, would an umpire ring up Miguel Cabrera on a borderline strike?

After Monday night’s Royals-Tigers game we know the answer. And the answer is no.

In the bottom of the 10th inning, with one out and the winning run on second base, Royals reliever Kevin McCarthy threw an 0-1 slider to Miguel Cabrera. The pitch clipped the edge of the strike zone, but home plate umpire Greg Gibson called it a ball. Two pitches later McCarthy threw a 1-2 slider and this pitch was entirely within the strike zone, but once again Gibson called the pitch a ball.

Those calls had nothing to do with the way Salvador Perez received the pitch.

Cabrera should have been rung up, but it appeared Gibson was reluctant to call a future Hall of Famer out on strikes in front of a hometown crowd.

Players will tell you this kind of thing happens all the time, and it’s one of the reasons you can’t trust framing reports.

How Jason Hammel gets back in the count

When a pitcher falls behind in the count 2-0, 2-1 or 3-1, what pitch does he throw? Hitters, managers and scouts want to know.

Those are considered fastball counts, so hitters expect to see a fastball and, if they get one, they tend to come out of their shoes trying to hit it.

So everybody pays attention to what a pitcher throws in those counts; can he throw an off-speed pitch for a strike or does he have enough to control to throw the expected fastball, but throw it in a hard-to-hit location?

On Monday night Jason Hammel threw 83 pitches and by my count only 10 were thrown in a fastball count. Five of the pitchers were sliders — a pitch the hitter is likely to take or mistime because he’s looking fastball — and five of the pitches were fastballs thrown in spots tough to hit.

Royals TV guy Jeff Montgomery made the point that the Royals got a lot better in June because Hammel got a lot better in June. In April his ERA was 6.65, in May it was 5.83 and June it was 2.51.

Hammel got straightened out and when his spot in the rotation came around, the Royals had a better chance of winning.

How heat and homers can be related

I’ve got no idea how TV got such a bad name; personally, I don’t think I watch enough of it.

When the Royals are playing in Kauffman we have TVs on in the press box, but the sound is turned down; when the Royals are on the road I get to hear what the announcers are saying.

And Monday night Ryan Lefebvre said that before the season began, Dayton Moore predicted the Royals might get off to a slow start offensively.

The team would hit more home runs, but strike out more often; the home runs probably wouldn’t come right away, but the strikeouts would.

Now here’s the theory behind Dayton’s prediction: as the weather heats up, balls fly further and pitchers tire more easily.

In April, the Royals hit 24 homers and slugged .336, in May it was 34 homers and .405; in June it was 34 homers and .465. With six games left in July, the Royals have hit 33 homers and slugged .470.

At least global warming is good for something.

And just in case you’re wondering: Royals pitchers gave up 20 homers in April, 37 in May, 30 in June and, so far, 21 in July.

The Royals are buyers

Monday night the Royals beat the Tigers in extra innings, but the big news of the day was the acquisition of three pitchers.

Despite a lousy start in April, the Royals have played their way back into contention, are currently 1½ games out of first place and, if the season ended today, they’d be one of the two wild card teams.

Nobody, and that certainly includes me, knows how the Royals will do in 2018 and beyond, but if they lose some of their core players it might not be pretty. But for now, those core players are here and trying to win another championship.

Enjoy it while you can...these are the good old days.